By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Graduation took a hit on Hilldale football a year ago, or was supposed to anyway.
One of those hits sent the entire offensive line in graduation gowns. The response? A Class 3A quarterfinal visit, the Hornets’ first trip three weeks into the postseason in school history.
The holes aren’t as severe in 2013 – the right side of the line is gone. But they most definitely have the leadership element covered.
Seth Sherman took care of that before he got his diploma – bestowing the chairmanship of the self-proclaimed Hilldale Lineman’s Association to Drew Vandiver.
“Jeffy, as we called him, came up with it as a joke on Facebook but pretty soon we all had shirts with it on there,” Vandiver said. “A lot of people don’t know about it but we’re going to keep it going this year. It kind of helped us come together because we knew in order to succeed as a group we would have to.”
Vandiver, at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds, would seem to command that kind of role if only because he’s the biggest of the returning linemen. But if size was what merited it, Trandon Boylan, the All-Phoenix lineman off last year’s squad, would have been the one to give it.
But then, considering the graduated Boylan’s carefully-grown beard, “Amish Mafia” might have been a more appropriate term. Then again, no one else followed suit on the facial hair.
So it’s HLA for short, and Vandiver has to take the reins.
“It’s sentimental if anything else,” he said. “It meant a lot to us last year and I want to keep it going.”
The other returning starters are Caleb Schultz and left tackle Dakota Nail, who definitely has the last name worthy of such a title. At 5-11, 200, he’s also the smallest guy up front but built for the task.
“Trandon may have been the more vocal leader last year, but he also made plays,” Nail said. “All three of us realize we’re seniors now so we have to step it up and be an example.”
Schultz, the other returning starter at center, is recovering from torn knee ligaments and should be back by the start of the season. Brodie Edwards has slipped into that spot for now but will eventually move to right tackle, where Wyatt Gassaway is getting a majority of the reps right now.
Gunner Drake is at right guard and Bailey Puckett and Daniel Edgemon are also among the major contenders in the battle up front.
Still, nothing is set in concrete, Hornets coach Chad Kirkhart said.
“We’ve got some holes to fill on that right side and several battling. But that’s not to say those three other spots are wrapped up,” he said. “Sure those guys started all 13 games but the best five players are going to play and we’re going to go with the ones who show that out here.”
Hilldale is in the Claremore Sequoyah team camp Tuesday and Wednesday and will compete in the passing league in Wagoner on Thursdays at 1 p.m. throughout the summer. Summer Pride kicks off June 17.